Pitfalls and Promises for a Global Ethics

Knitter, Paul

With so many others, I am in deep, appreciative, and enthusiastic support of the proposals and search for a global ethic that Hans Kung and Leonard Swidler have been advancing over the past years (Kung 1991; Swidler 1992). The "Declaration of a Global Ethic" that was approved by 250 religious leaders at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago on 4 September 1993 (Kung and Kuschel 1993) represents a goal that all peoples and all religions must resolutely move toward if they are to exercise "global responsibility" in resolving the crises that face our planet as it enters the twenty-first century. (For a careful but sobering description and analysis of these multiple crises, see Kennedy [1993].) The critical remarks that follow are meant, in the fullest sense, to be a positive criticism--a support that will enable Kung, Swidler, and all of us to achieve this necessary goal of a global ethic that will ground a global responsibility. I fear that, unless the warnings and directions that I am suggesting are taken to heart, the path that Kung and Swidler are walking can either turn into a dead-end or, contrary to their intentions, lead to an end they are trying to avoid. In order to achieve a global ethic, Kung and Swidler propose an open-ended, pluralistic dialogue among all the religions and ideologies of the world. They endorse a genuinely pluralistic approach to elaborating this ethic. While I certainly agree that such pluralistic dialogue is indispensable for the formulation and acceptance of a global ethic, I want to add that indispensable to the success of such a dialogue is a clear recognition that this kind of pluralistic dialogue is as dangerous as it is necessary. To succeed in their proposal, Kung and Swidler must be aware of these dangers. I fear that they are not.



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Buddhist-Christian Studies

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Union Theological Seminary
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April 19, 2012